Cheese Danish Braid

At our Thanksgiving feast we enjoyed celebrating God’s blessings. One of them, the best in my opinion, is of course, lovely breakfast treats. In specific, a golden cream cheese danish with a hint of almond…can you see where were going with this?

Danishes can be a little tricky – below is simple version of the recipe. If you’d like a flakier danish, I suggest doing the square of butter version (see notes at end of recipe).
But either way, with a straight-forward approach and a little bit of time, you can enjoy the sweet, flaky treat for a Sunday brunch or with your mid-morning coffee. We are so grateful to God’s many blessings and pray that you also were able to appreciate God’s goodness this year. Happy belated Thanksgiving!

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Cheese Danish Braid
SERVINGS
12servings
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
servings
COOK TIME
15-20mins
PREP TIME
20mins
READY IN
30mins (plus overnight for resting dough)

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, add the yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar, and warm water. Let the yeast rest until it proofs (5 minutes). Once the yeast has proofed, add the egg, milk, sugar, and salt. Stir with a whisk, and set to the side.
  2. Place the flour and 1/2 cup cubed butter into a large bowl. With a pastry blender, combine until the butter is in tiny pieces. (You can also use the food processor for this step.) **NOTE** If you'd like a flakier Danish, set aside 1/2 cup of butter and make into a butter square.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour and combine until the dough comes together. Place the dough onto a floured work surface and shape into a square. Roll the dough into a rectangle 9 x 13-inches. If you'd like a flakier crust, place the butter square (see #8) in the middle and fold the dough lengthwise into thirds (similar to folding a letter to fit into an envelope). Roll the dough into a rectangle again, and then again fold into thirds. Repeat this process twice more, until you've done it a total of 3 times. Cut the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge overnight. The dough keeps for one week in the fridge and 2 months in the freezer.
  4. Beat Cream Cheese till very smooth and no lumps remain. Combine with rest of filling ingredients.
  5. Remove one piece of dough from the fridge, and save the other for a rainy day (the dough can last in the fridge for up to 5 days and in the freezer for 3 months). On a floured piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough into a 9 x 13-inch rectangle. Spoon some of the cream cheese filling in the middle of the dough. With the dough laid in front of you vertically (so that the smaller 9-inch end is facing you), make 1-inch diagonal cuts down the left and right sides of the dough (imagine you are making a Christmas tree). Once you have reached the bottom, cut away two triangle pieces, so that the dough now has a tree trunk. Fold the tree trunk flap over the apples, then go back to the top and fold each strip over the cheese filling, alternating from left to right and moving towards the bottom.Preheat the oven to 400º F.
  6. Gently lift the parchment paper and the braid onto a baking sheet. Brush the top of the pastry with an egg wash (one egg white and a teaspoon of water). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until brown on top.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of milk, and vanilla until you get a desired consistency. Add a tablespoon more milk if the icing is too thick. (It should be pourable, but not so thin that it drips off of the pastry.) Drizzle over the top of the braid and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm. The danish lasts for 3 to 4 days. It's best to store in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, and then reheated in the oven or microwave before eating.

*NOTE: Option for Flakier Dough: Before cubing butter, set aside 1/2 cup of butter. Cut into 4 squares, sprinkle with a little flour and roll to a 1/4" width between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Refrigerate till ready to use in Step #5.

Fresh Ricotta Blueberry Ice Cream

Our community is blessed with two dairy cows, and we enjoy fresh milk and yogurt each week!
Sometimes we make ricotta for upscale recipes. My favorite? Fresh Ricotta Blueberry Ice cream.

Last week, after enjoying delicious fresh ricotta, ham, and melon salad, I spotted some extra ricotta and remembered a recipe for ricotta ice cream. A friend from a nearby farm with blueberry bushes had invited us to pick berries earlier in the week, so our refrigerator also had a bucket overflowing with beautiful fresh blueberries. The ricotta, blueberries, and kosher salt turned out to be a delicious combination, but of course, this basic homemade ice cream recipe can be adjusted to include your favorite ingredients. At the last minute, I decided to add lime zest to this recipe — Blueberry Lime Jam is one of the favorites from the Monastery Kitchen line, so I thought that combination would be especially tasty. It’s also the season for fresh mint, which is a lovely garnish along with fresh blueberries.

Making homemade ice cream can seem daunting, but with an ice cream maker, it’s quite easy. The ingredients directly are mixed, placed in the ice cream maker for 30 – 60 minutes, then frozen for several more hours, or overnight in the freezer. This particular recipe was made to celebrate an exciting event, and would be perfect for a summer dessert for any special occasion!

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Fresh Ricotta Blueberry Ice Cream
SERVINGS
2quarts
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
quarts
COOK TIME
30-45mins (plus freezing time)
PREP TIME
30mins
READY IN
3hrs

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Lay blueberries out on a tray and place in the freezer.
  2. Blend ricotta, cream cheese, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt in a blender until smooth. Add lime zest & heavy cream. Blend until just combined.
  3. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions. Blend in frozen blueberries. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden. Scoop and enjoy!

Also - nuts, candied citrus peeled or chopped chocolate can be added, as well as fresh mint and blueberries for garnish.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ball Cookies

As a youngster I loved the story of the spoiled young prince who traveled far and wide in search of the best tasting food in the world. Coming upon a woodchopper in the forest who assured him he could give him that food, he agreed to spend the day working with him. At the close of the day the woodchopper handed the prince a chunk of coarse crusty bread which the tired, famished prince eagerly consumed. Beaming with satisfaction he loudly proclaimed, “At last, I have found the best food in the world!

On the morning of the 9th day of Christmas, without any effort or searching abroad for it, I found the best cookie in the world! It was a scrumptious little chocolate peanut butter creation on a little plate on my desk with an attached note signed, “from a Christmas angel”… I felt just like the spoiled young prince.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Ball Cookies
SERVINGS
2dozen
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
dozen
COOK TIME
24minutes
PREP TIME
30minutes
READY IN
54minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, beat the brownie mix, butter, cream cheese, and egg. The dough will be a little sticky.
  2. Scoop the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, making about 24 cookies.
  3. Smooth the edges of each to form a round cookie.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the powdered sugar and the peanut butter until it is completely combined.
  5. Form the mixture into about 1 inch balls. Make sure you have one ball for each cookie. Set aside.
  6. Bake for the cookie dough 12 minutes, keeping an eye out to make sure the cookies doesn't overcook or undercook.
  7. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, press a peanut butter ball lightly into the center of each cookie.
  8. The peanut butter mixture will soften slightly, but that is OK. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl for 45 seconds. Stir the chocolate and melt for additional 15 seconds or until the chocolate is completely melted.
  10. Spoon about 1/2 a tablespoon of melted chocolate on top of each cookie so it covers the peanut butter ball.
  11. Let the chocolate set. Store in an airtight container.

Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.

The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.

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Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
SERVINGS
2people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
25-30 minutes
PREP TIME
15 minutes
READY IN
40-45 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
  3. In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
  4. Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
  5. Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.

zuc-tomatos

Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms​

I’ve had the great joy of working side-by-side with an Italian chef over these last few weeks. The other Sisters who have lived and worked at Via Sacra have also had the tremendous privilege of learning from her. Chef Laura has been so generous with her time and energy as we try to absorb all that we can about Italian cooking. Below is one of her recipes that she taught me this past week and I went home and made it for the villa. These crepes are so delicious and light! Chef Laura serves this as a first course at her restaurant, but we enjoyed it as a light supper served with a fruit salad and a tossed green salad on the side.

All Chef Laura’s recipes are in her head, so I tried to reproduce it here by just observing her. If the quantities seem a little off, just adjust them to your liking! We can still get squash blossoms in the market this time of year in Italy. If you have any zucchini plants in your garden, just pluck the blossoms off and you are all set!

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Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms​
SERVINGS
4people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
5min
PREP TIME
1hour
READY IN
1hour

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. ​Make the filling: ​​​O​ver low heat, melt your butter in a saucepan and add the zucchini and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally​,​ until both vegetables are very soft. Continue cooking ​until most​ ​all ​of the moisture is removed​ (the zucchini will let off a lot of water while it cooks).​ While the​ zucchini mixture is cooking, prepare the crepes.
  2. Make the crepes: ​In a blender, combine all the crepe ingredients​ above​ and blend until smooth. Let rest about 5 min.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled ​Teflon frying pan ​(omelet size pan) ​over medium heat. Pour or ​ladle​ the batter ​into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.​ Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side​ for 1 minute. Remove to a plate, put a square of wax paper on top and repeat until all the batter is used up. This recipe should make 8 crepes.
  4. Remove the filling from the heat and mash with a potato masher. Let cool slightly and add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. This mixture should be the consistency of pesto or a little thicker.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. (or broiler)
  6. To assemble, in one quadrant of your crepe place a heaping tablespoon of the filling and spread to fill that quadrant. Fold the crepe into quarters and place into oblong serving ramekins (2 per person) or a casserole dish. Repeat, until all the crepes are filled.
  7. Dot each crepe with butter and lay the squash blossoms over them to cover the crepes. Again, dot butter over the squash blossoms and sprinkle the grated cheese over the entire crepe.
  8. Place the crepes in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden, about 5 min. If you prefer, you can also broil them at this step.
  9. Remove from the oven and serve. Andiamo mangiare!​

Hummingbird Cake

I was recently introduced to this classic southern cake through one of my friends from the Deep South. I was intrigued by the name as my mom keeps a dish of grape jelly on her porch to attract hummingbirds and has regular visitors. The Hummingbird Cake is a very unusual one; it’s made with oil rather than butter, and contains more fruit than flour. The mix doesn’t need beating, is wonderful with a cream cheese frosting, and is flavored with interesting spices and pecans. Contrary to the name, there are no birds in this particular recipe! The giveaway to the Hummingbird Cake’s birthplace, however, is in the key ingredients – bananas and pineapple. It’s thought to have been invented in Jamaica, probably in the late ‘60s, and introduced to society through Southern Living magazine by a Mrs. L.H. Wiggin in 1978.

Since it’s a dessert made for ladies, we thought it would be a crowd pleasing addition to our weekly Harborside Teas. We always offer two choices of dessert, and it was fun to have a whole new recipe and an unusual one at that. It was so popular that we thought it warranted giving away the recipe. A thin slice will do you – this cake is rich!  And oh, so good…

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Hummingbird Cake
SERVINGS
12people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
25 minutes
PREP TIME
15 minutes
READY IN
1 1/2 hrs (with cooling time)

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, pineapple, mashed bananas, and finely chopped pecans in another large bowl.
  4. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Evenly divide the batter between the three prepared pans and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Turn cakes onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. Cream the cream cheese with an electric mixer.
  2. Add in butter and cream together with cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  3. Add confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time. After each cup has been incorporated, turn the mixer onto the highest speed setting and for about 10 seconds to lighten the frosting.
  4. Add in vanilla and cream until well-blended, light and fluffy.

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